Aam Aadmi Party chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has apparently conveyed his intention to meet Patidar leaders from the Hardik Patel camp in Ahmedabad on 9 July when he kicks off AAP’s election campaign for the 2017 Gujarat Assembly polls. The move has received mixed responses from the Patidar leaders who are apparently surprised by Kejriwal’s support for a caste-based reservation movement, given his claims on equality.
Patel Nav Nirman Sena General Secretary Akhilesh Katiyar, second in command to Hardik Patel, told this newspaper, “I cannot speculate on the nature of the meeting right now. He and his party have been those who have publicly championed the cause of equality and freedom. It’s surprising that he has shown his support for a caste-based reservation movement. We would like to meet and find out why.”
When questioned if Kejriwal was seeking the community’s support for AAP’s election bid in 2017, Katiyar said, “They don’t have a vote bank in Gujarat… They have announced that they will fight on all seats, but we don’t know their election strategy. The Patidar community’s support to AAP is a long shot. However, I will accept support from those who help my people in the ways we want. For now we will discuss with Hardik and decide.”
Kejriwal recently showed uncharacteristic sympathy towards the Patidars’ reservation movement publicly and supported the call to release Patidar leader Hardik Patel who has been in jail for over a year under charges of sedition. The party also came under fire when the AAP chief went on a Dera trip in Punjab in March this year visiting Dera Sachkand Ballan, Dera Baba Pargat Nath, Rahimpur Dera and Baba Kashmira Singh Dera.
The party recently announced that it will contest all 182 seats in the Gujarat Assembly. Kejriwal will kickstart his party’s Gujarat poll campaign on 9 July in Saurashtra, from the Somnath temple. AAP is trying to find a foothold in the saffron states as evident from its recent announcement of fighting elections in Goa, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. AAP is also campaigning strongly in Punjab and is being seen as a frontrunner by many sections. AAP spokesperson Harshik Nayak said that “Kejriwal may raise the (Patidar reservation) issue when he visits Ahmedabad next month.”
Notably, Sukhdev Patel, one of the initial leaders who started the AAP’s state unit in Gujarat, has left the party. The party’s most heavyweight leader in the last Assembly election, Dr Kanu Kalsaria, who had joined AAP after quitting the BJP, had lost badly.